September 5, 2023: What Defines "Old-School"?
I'm a fan of retro computers. There's a certain thrill of getting a copy of Ultima IV working on a Commodore 128 hooked up to a humming CRT monitor. Perhaps, if I'm lucky someday and figure out where I can put it, I'll re-acquire an Apple IIgs and relive my high-school "don't get caught staying up at 3 a.m." youth.
But one aspect of the "retro" experience that's difficult for me to codify is: What the heck am I looking for?
The modern realm of retro computing has so many more conveniences compared to the original era: HDMI monitors and thumb drives sidestep the issues of boxy screens and deteriorating floppies. Drop-in upgrades can bring old Amigas and vintage Macs to speeds previously undreamt of. At the most extreme, many vintage systems can be replicated in their entirety via emulation on modern computers. But how much of that is the "real" experience? At what point does it become not old school?
I think about this in the tabletop gaming realm, and I'm quite sure what the best answer is. I'm a fan of The Fantasy Trip revival, which is obviously of the old-school era but is also steeped enough in the modern realm to make life "better" for the average gamer. I love my searchable PDFs and one-click purchasing options, and dice that don't feel like they were made of the crumbly plastic they use to glue straws onto juice boxes. And the modern world has ensured that these books just look better than their decades-past counterparts, with sharper print quality and higher production values.
The flippant observation is that it's the "spirit" that's important, but I'm not sure how to codify into words, outside of a broad "I'll recognize it when I feel it" platitude. All I know is that I do love The Fantasy Trip Legacy Edition, and I don't miss character sheets that were marine-rescue orange. I welcome you to offer your own insights on the forums for the Daily Illuminators!
-- Steven Marsh
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